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Mississippi Corrections Task Force Close To Sweeping Reform Recommendation

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 04 Dec 2013 05:39pm | comments

A task force charged with remaking Mississippi corrections system is close to a wide ranging set of recommended reforms. As MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports the  Corrections and Criminal Justice task force is looking at comprehensive changes.

According to Corrections commissioner Chris Epps, who is leading the taskforce, the prison population will grow by 10-percent over the next ten years and cost the state over 200-million dollars in the next ten years unless the existing law is changed.

Epps says it has become increasingly clear that continued growth of inmates is unsustainable.

"It is nothing to be proud about being number two or three for first for incarceration. So what will happen is it will get us off the list and stop the growth," Epps said.

The task force is considering changing drug sentencing laws, crafting more clearly defined prison sentences, and reforming the parole and prisoner release program.

Representative Andy Gipson of Braxton, who is leading the drug policy changes says the state should move from incarcerating repeat drug offenders, to focusing on those with large amount of drugs.

"And the ones that have the lower amounts, the addicts for example, we are going to propose that the judges have the ability to put them into mandatory treatment. To put them on house arrest and save costs that way. We are going to focus on the really bad guys. The drug traffickers. The dealers," Gipson said.

The length of prison terms in Mississippi has consistently drifted upwards over the last decade.

That's because judges and prosecutors issue long sentences not knowing how long an inmate will actually serve says Ricky Smith, the president of the Mississippi Prosecutors.

"While we are dealing with that it undercuts our authority in the community and it hurts us as prosecutors and judges to show that we are in control of the inmates that we deal with or the defendants that we deal with," Smith said.

Smith says a guaranteed minimum of 25 or 50 percent of a sentence will give judges more control over prison terms.

The task force is also looking at making the release program more reliable and not over-crowding prisons with people accused of minor technical parole violations.

The final report is due by the end of the month.

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